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There’s an airline credit card out there for every type of traveler. To help you determine which card is right for you, we assembled our top picks.
Best airline credit cards
Best for airline rewards and transferable airline points: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Rewards. Earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and on prepaid hotels booked on American Express Travel. All other purchases earn 1x points.
- Welcome offer. Earn 60,000 rewards points after you make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Travel perks. Get an annual airline fee credit, annual Uber credits, TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit, airport lounge access.
Best for Delta: Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express
- Welcome offer. Earn 75,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $5,000 in eligible purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Rewards. Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on other eligible purchases.
- Delta SkyClub access. Get complimentary access to all Delta Sky Clubs, which otherwise costs $59 for a single visit. If you visit Delta Sky Clubs once a month, that’s $708 savings per year. In addition, get discounted access for $29 for up to two guests.
Best for United: United℠ Explorer Card
- Signup bonus. Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you make $2,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Rewards. Earn 2x miles on United purchases, eligible hotel stays and restaurant spending. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases.
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit. Get up to $100 credit once every for years to cover for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
Best for American Airlines: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
- Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you make $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Rewards. Earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, on gas and restaurant purchases. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases.
- American Airlines perks. Get first checked bag free and preferred boarding on American Airlines itineraries, plus 25% savings on eligible in-flight food and beverage purchases, and a $125 flight discount when you spend $20,000 or more in a cardmembership year.
Best for Southwest: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
- Signup bonus. Earn 40,000 points after you make $1,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Rewards. Earn 2x points on Southwest Airlines purchases and spending with hotel and car rental partners. Earn 1x points on all other purchases.
- Southwest Airlines perks. Get four Upgraded Boarding passes each year, $75 annual travel credit and 7,500 bonus Southwest points each card anniversary.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for airline rewards and transferable airline points
- Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express: Best for Delta
- United℠ Explorer Card: Best for United
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Best for American Airlines
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Best for Southwest
We looked at a variety of factors consumers might consider when selecting an airline rewards credit card, including the particular airline, earning rates, possible rewards, redemption values and additional perks or benefits associated with traveling. Those cards that stood out above the rest in a particular category, or served a specific niche, were chosen for our list.
What’s changed in 2019
With so many great airline credit cards to choose from, we decided to highlight the respective branded cards this year that provided the right mix of value versus the annual fee. Notable this year is the United℠ Explorer Card, which offers a terrific value versus other mid-tier airline cards.
Our pick for an airline credit card
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American ExpressRead more
Compare airline credit cards
Many airlines offer cobranded credit cards with airline-specific perks. If you fly with different carriers, you might like a general travel card instead.
Compare cards by airline
Membership Rewards vs. Chase Ultimate Rewards
You can transfer points to select airline and hotel partners with Amex’s Membership Rewards and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards.
Amex has an edge in international airline partners, which makes it the favorite in our book. But look at the lists of partners for yourself and see what works for you. Chase lets you transfer points to Southwest and World of Hyatt, two high-value options that Amex doesn’t work with.
For more on earning airline miles, check out our full miles earning guide.
How to choose an airline credit card
Decide if you want a general or cobranded card.
A general card can be effective if you fly with different airlines. Depending on the provider, you may be able to transfer your points or miles to partner airlines. This gives you a lot of flexibility you wouldn’t get with a cobranded card.
If you’re loyal to a certain airline, you might like a cobranded card. You probably shouldn’t get the card for its rewards, as you’ll often find stronger points or miles from a general card. But the cobranded product might offer airline-specific perks such as priority boarding, free checked baggage and access to the airline’s lounges. If you’re on the fence, check out our top picks for airline rewards programs.
Think about how much you want to pay.
Airline credit cards usually fall into three general price points: $0, $99 or $450 a year.A no-annual-fee cobranded card usually offers limited airline perks — for example, savings on inflight purchases. The mid-tier card typically offers a few more benefits, such as priority boarding and checked baggage. The $450-a-year card may offer airport-lounge access, TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credit or a companion pass.If you can forego airline benefits, you might like a general travel card with no annual fee. You’ll find several options with great rewards.
Apply for the card.
You’ll need information like your full name, contact details, Social Security number, date of birth, gross annual income and employment information.
Wait for your card.
Many travel-card providers will give you a decision on your application immediately. If a provider needs to review your application manually, it may take a few days to a few weeks to hear back.
If you’re approved, look for your card in the mail within seven to 10 days.
Read more about airline credit cards
If you want to earn flexible points or miles on flights, consider a general travel credit card. If you’re loyal to a certain airline, you might like a cobranded card.
Not sure if an airline card is right for you? Check out our guide to travel credit cards for more options.
Frequently asked questions
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
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